Caio Henrique Dias Duarte, Researcher at the Law School of the University of São Paulo; Director of the University of São Paulo's Network for Diplomacy and National Defense Studies – special for InfoBRICS
With the start of the Bolsonaro administration, Brazil-Russia relations became somewhat of an uncertain terrain under the principiological verve of Mr. Araújo, the new head of the Ministry of Foreign Relations, historically known as Itamaraty. If one is to try and provide an insight of what this represents for the maintenance and construction of relations between Brasília and Moscow, it is necessary to look at the speeches of Mr. Araújo, as the effective actions of his mandate in the House of Rio Branco are, if not scarce, mainly retreats of fanned ones, such as the proposed move of Brazil's embassy in Israel to Jerusalem or the exit from the Paris Agreement.
Having this in mind, one will need to analyse Brazil-Russia relations considering both the official narrative being implemented by the administration and the internal struggle for control of foreign policy between conflicting areas of the Bolsonaro administration, such as the military and the ideological sect, of which Araújo is a part of. This article hopes to provide a vision of possibilities in this sense, not deepening itself in any particular cases.
The Official Narrative
Ernesto Araújo is an unparalleled indication to his post. Only recently promoted to Ambassador, he has never served as head of an Embassy abroad, what is called in the jargon of the House a junior Ambassador. His indication came as a surprise to an institution that is usually headed, if not by older politicians with a penchant for diplomacy, by seasoned diplomats. His name was suggested by far-right ideologue Olavo de Carvalho to the President's inner circle, in a move that in Russia would be as if someone like Aleksandr Dugin could suggest someone to be head of the MID. His purge of older diplomats to favour peers of his generation was seem as striking the core notion of continuity of the Ministry: as much as the Chancellor is entitled a centralizing position, he is limited by the principles that guided centuries of work since the Portuguese towards the maintenance and effective usage of soft power in what has been dubbed a diplomacy of knowledge.
Nonetheless, centralization under a political figure for the management of the institution is not an unknown practice for the Kremlin. Mr. Lavrov follows a tradition of long and proficuous mandates as the head of MID, and foreign policy is known to have been maintained from the Romanovs and Soviets to this day as a matter of the State, where continuity is a must. Brazil also followed this tradition, with an unparalleled prestige of its diplomatic corps both locally and abroad. With Mr. Araújo, we see a rupture of the set of principles that guided Brazil's diplomacy from the times of the Empire to this day, but not without opposition, as his retreats in his confrontative strategy with China or Venezuela after complaints from the military wing of the government have shown.
In the opening class of the Rio Branco institute, Araújo said to the new class of diplomats that he believed foreign policy to be not a State Policy, but something subject to internal politics and to the need to project the beliefs of the people to the world. He also boasted about the need to align with the United States, as he did in several articles, with the aim of protecting a judeo-christian civilization.
At the same time, Araújo has advocated for a christian alliance between the United States, Russia and Brazil against what he calls a globalist axis composed by the american left, China and Europe. With his sympathy for the more authoritarian countries of the Visegrad Group and for nationalist politicians, such as Salvini in Italy, he constructs a new narrative of foreign policy being a clash of civilizations, slavery to globalism versus freedom under nationalism. But policy-wise, one is led to ask: what does this means to Russia and to the initiatives that it develops with Brazil?
From Text to Action
Russia and Brazil being both countries entitled a strong worldview under the classical definition of Kennan, himself an expert in Russian foreign relations, leads us to think of the practical interaction under such ideological directives. We might then look at some of the issues at stake to grasp possible courses of action and assess how Brazil's relation with the Kremlin might unravel from the new worldview of this administration.
A Holy Alliance
One is then led to consider how this revised Holy Alliance is to work, given the historical conflicting worldviews between Moscow and the United States, exemplified in issues such as cyber security, NATO and even Syria and Ukraine.
If Brazil, disregarding the economical competition with the United States and taking the blow in losing a fair market share in products such as the soy intake in China, is to align with US interests and principles, breaking a "moral" and "civilizational indifference" in foreign policy, as Mr. Araújo hopes to do, he would be achieving some of his goals, such as abandoning what he calls a commercialist orientation of Brazilian diplomacy. But then again, does this mean that Brazil would side with the US in confronting Russia over Crimea, abandoning a neutral and responsible position in this issue? With his hopes of promoting Brazil to major non-NATO ally in the coming Bolsonaro-Trump meeting, it is hard to grasp how Russia could take part in Araújo's Holy Alliance, as NATO expansion is seen as a threat to Russia's integrity and sovereignty in the region.
The existence of a Russian Civilization, to use the jargon of the Chancellor, is incompatible with accepting a strong foreign military presence in its borders, and one doesn't need to go all the way back to Nicholas I and the Official Nationality l to be aware of this.
Also, if this alliance is to face what Araújo calls a globalist China as well, Brazil would have to create a path for Russia to find reasonable to confront its biggest trade partner. This also shows his lack of articulation inside the government, because being the chinese Brazil's biggest commercial partner, a rendezvous with the Chinese Ambassador had to be promoted to attenuate the tension caused by the Chancellor's and the President's remarks in that sense, with plans of a presidential trip to China being announced to remedy the situation.
Relations with Europe
The destiny of the thousands of migrants that arrive in Europe are a divisive issue inside the continent and also in the European Union's relations with Russia. Visegrad countries such as Poland took a stand in this when they voted against the Global Pact for Migration. Nonetheless, Russia is one of the countries that voted for it, aware of the needs of several of its citizens abroad. Having been one of the main articulators of the pact, it came as a shock the announcement that Brazil would leave the Global Pact for Migration, as it shares the same problem than Russia and has a small intake of migrants, with a fairly good share of cultural integration.
This solely-rhetoric move from the Bolsonaro administration will hardly bring Russia and Brazil closer in an anti-migrant agenda, as the concerns of the Kremlin are in assuring support for what can be defined as the Ruskii Mir, or Russian World, in a term that resembles Mr. Araújo's vision, but is far from idealistic in the policy-making of the MID, specially considering the protection of ethnic russians in countries such as Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, hostile to such minorities.
BRICS and other organizations
If the Holy Alliance is really the goal of Brazil's foreign policy, going against a multilateral agenda dubbed as globalist, then the cooperation in the BRICS' many fronts is to be severely undermined. Still, with the pressure of agribusiness and the military sector of the government, stability with China is something that will probably remain unaltered. One can expect that the pragmatic forces of economy will not allow for a full anti-China turn in diplomacy, as they have begun to show. But with the Government's need to keep its declaration in tone with an anti-globalist rhetoric, Brazil's presidency of the BRICS and its further participation in the group for the following years will remain more economically-oriented. If Russia's participation in international organizations is oriented by a pragmatic nationalism, Brazil will see its interaction with said organizations under an internal struggle for harmonizing histrionic rhetoric with economic needs of a stagnated economy.
This agribusiness pressure is possibly what will force the stabilization of Brazil in the WTO, a much criticized organization under the Government wing of Araújo and his peers, or other organizations such as the Mercosur. More political organizations, such as the Unasur, will probably experience a period of lack of activity from Brazil, if not the termination of participation altogether. In the Russia-Brazil axis, this could mean a need to expand participation in joint-ventures, but will hardly happen if the alignment with the US is pursued.
An example was the presence of Mr. Araújo in the failed anti-Iran meeting in Warsaw. The Kremlin and the Trump administration couldn't be more divergent in their views of how to work with Tehran, and siding with the US necessarily distances Brazil from Russia
Venezuela and the alignment with the United States
The most pressing issue in Latin America is Venezuela and the crisis of the Maduro regime. Russia's position in supporting Maduro with China has allowed for its survival, and Moscow's cooperation with Caracas, both in the economic and the military fields, gave it time and strength.
Brazil's alignment with the US in that sense can only distance Brasília and Moscow, diverging from an expected collective lead for a transition in a third-way solution for a regime transition. While the Kremlin works with Maduro and considers an organized government transition, Brazil's Araújo considered the possibility of a military intervention. This is not to say that Brazil's or Russia's approach necessarily could achieve real progress -during the left government of Rousseff and the Workers' Party, sympathetic to Maduro, no changes were achieved either- but that with Brazil supporting Washington's position hardly any constructive dialogue will be done with Russia. This would go in line with the principiological approach that Araújo aims to implement, being a hard-line anti-communist, but at the same time, when asked in a live interview on what Brazil should do regarding Kim Jong-Un, he sided with Trump, saying that the dictator was not as bad as it seems.
This shows how close to Washington and in conflict with Moscow the administration will get, regardless of principles. But the inexperience of the Chancellor and the internal struggles in the government are what might accidentally benefit if not the growth at the very least the preservation of Brazil-Russia cooperation. Examples of this conflict of interests include the spontaneous offer to hosting a US military base, profoundly criticized by the military and then abandoned to the now-in-force tutelage of the Chancellor in sensitive defense decisions -in a meeting of the Lima group on Venezuela he agreed on ending all military cooperation with Caracas, ignoring the fact that most of the information on the regime is obtained through contact between the armed forces of both countries, triggering a reaction by the military.
More than a principiological commitment, Mr. Araújo's peculiar alignment with the Trump administration's worldview can only mean one thing for Moscow: an unreliable partnership, subject in its preservation to reasoning from more experienced sectors of the Government, and that lacks knowledge of Russia's national interest and needs. Just recently he said that Brazil would "pressure" Russia and China to support Mr. Guaidó in Venezuela. If one is to paraphrase a great writer and thinker, as Mr. Araújo is so fond of doing in his speeches, when it comes to bilateral relations with Moscow, it is all confusion in the house of Araújo.